Dates Traveled: 10/7/17 – 10/14/17
While we were watching our last sunset in Kauai a year ago, Tejinder turned to me and asked “So, where to next?” which is usually how we start scheming our next adventure. A couple of destinations were tossed around before the idea of Japan was brought up. Tejinder wanted an international trip and I wanted to eat good food so Japan felt like a perfect fit!
But the universe had other plans. We planned our itinerary, set aside a budget, and were ready to press go in August when time was not in our favor. With our heads hung low, we shelfed our itinerary for another time. It wasn’t until months later that we decided on a trip to Canada for Tejinder’s birthday in October when the idea of Japan came back into the picture. Air Canada was having a crazy sale on tickets to Japan and we just couldn’t pass it up. And just like that, we dusted off our travel plans and booked our tickets!
A week is not nearly enough time to see and experience everything Japan offers but Tejinder and I managed to check out 4 cities – Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, and Osaka. Our week-long whirlwind of shrine-hopping, noodle-slurping, and tea-drinking was one definitely one for books and I’m so excited to share our trip with you!
On our first morning in Tokyo, we stopped by Tsukiji Market for some fresh fish on a stick. The market is made up of a series of corridors filled with seafood vendors and shops. Think: the Japanese version of Pike Place Market, but less fish throwing. Name a kind of seafood and I can guarantee you’d find the fresh, cooked, and dried version of it at the Tsukiji Market. I highly recommend munching on seafood yakatori or as I kept calling it, fish on a stick. You can find veggie + fish patties, fried shrimp, grilled octopus, and so much more for sale throughout the market.
This temple might be hard to miss because it sits under the shadows of the Tokyo Tower but save your hassle of the crowds at Tokyo Tower and go straight to Zojoji Temple right across the street. Being that it is the main temple in the Shiba neighborhood, the temple and it’s grounds is massive and is made even more picturesque with the tower behind it.
A public park on the Tokyo Bay, Hama-rikyu Garden is a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. The center of the landscaped garden is filled with peony gardens, plum trees, and flower fields. Be sure to stop by the Nakajima-no-ochaya tea house for matcha tea and a sweet dessert while taking in the gorgeous views of Shioiri Lake.
If you need a place to walk off an udon-induced food baby, look no further than Yoyogi Park. The big, beautiful park provides paved walkways for families and tourists to wander among the towering trees. The pathways are so wide because Yoyogi Park was the main athletes village during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and was converted into a park shortly after in 1967.
After all this exploring, you need to refuel with a hot bowl of udon and the best, most delicious place to do that is at Shin Udon. Don’t let the long line deter you, the wait is 100% worth it. While you wait for your order, you can watch the chefs prepare fresh udon bowls and let’s be real, nothing is sexier than watching someone handle noodles. I highly recommend the Butter Udon which is served with a soft boiled egg. It is the perfect, creamy, and warm dish the recharge your batteries. I don’t want to spoil the rest of this post, but it was the best thing I ate in Japan.
Make your Instagram dreams a reality with a plate of fluffy Japanese pancakes from Burnside Café in Harajuku. Yes, I’m talking about those thick, jiggly pancakes you’ve seen Tastemade posting about. At Burnside, you can top your cakes with whipped cream, honey, and a variety of fresh fruit. Take some time to explore the Japanese street wear shops on Takeshita Street near Burnside Café. You are in one of the fashion capitals of the world after all!
Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
Yes, a train was so memorable that it made it on this list. When you’re traveling at 200 mph on a train, the fastest you’ve ever traveled on the ground, it’s worth mentioning. We first rode the shinkansen from Tokyo to Hakone and enjoyed the quiet, clean train ride. You can either lookout the window and enjoy views of the countryside zipping by or recline your chair for a cozy nap. Guess which one I chose to do? They don’t call me Nap Queen for nothing. For longer trips, like our ride from Hakone to Kyoto, snacks and drinks were provided for purchase onboard.
You know how they say “it’s not about the destination but the journey”? Traveling to Hakone from Tokyo embodies that saying to the T! It took us 6 hours, two trains, one bullet train, a cable car, a bowl of soba, and a rope way to get to our hotel in Hakone and the journey there was beautiful! The last leg of our trip required us to ride the Hakone Ropeway. The 30 minute ride from Gora Station to Lake Ashi was filled with 360 degree views of the lush green mountains, the rising volcanic fumes of Owakudani and even the tip of Mount Fuji!
The long journey to Hakone was 100% worth it once we laid eyes on Lake Ashi for the first time. It’s vast beauty reminded me of Crater Lake and it was funny when we found out that it is a crater lake formed on the south side of a volcano. The deep blue waters against the rich green mountainside was a beautiful site to take in after a long day of traveling. And the best way to experience Lake Ashi is by pirate boat, of course! It’s gimmicky, and super touristy but we were living for it. The boat takes you to the three different piers on the lake. My only tip would be to read the time table carefully! Don’t be like us and get stranded on the other side of the lake. Just, don’t.
From the pirate boat, you can see the bright red gate that welcomes you to Hakone Shrine. The shrine itself is atop a flight of stairs and tucked between a forest of towering trees. If you’re not feeling the steps, head towards the entrance gate where you’ll find a nice trail that takes you along the lake. The gate itself is also the perfect spot for a photo!
Bakery + Table
While we were waiting for our bus back to the shinkansen, we stopped by Bakery + Table for sweet bread and tea. There is a large bar facing the water in front of the café and I asked Tejinder to save us two seats there while I grabbed some treats. I came out to see Tejinder smiling and barefoot. Turns out the waterfront bar was also an onsen (natural hot spring) for your feet! After days of traveling, my feet welcomed some much needed relaxation.
We learned quickly that Kyoto is filled with temples and shrines. Everywhere we turned, we’d see the bright red entrance gates. We visited a handful because they are pretty captivated but none compared to Kinkakuji Temple. The Golden Pavillion is a three story building covered in pure gold leaves and is surrounded by a go-around style garden. I was completely mesmerized by the architectural beauty of the temple. My only tip is to go early since it gets crowded quickly with tourists and school field trips.
The Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama is said to be the most beautiful grove on Earth, and it delivered. The entrance is a bit crowded but as you proceed through the trail, the crowds thin out and you’re left with beautiful bamboo trees towering over you, swaying in the wind. The leaves at the top of the trees formed a cozy tunnel over the trail.
After walking through the Bamboo Grove, we cut through to Koen Park. It was nice to escape the crowds and wander the trails of the park without an agenda. At the end of the park, you can find a nice spot along the Katsura River. This moment was my absolute favorite part of our trip. The water was gently flowing next to the green mountainside and was filled with boats and fishermen. Sitting on the river bank with Tejinder filled me with peace and joy. And most importantly, more energy to continue exploring!
On our last day in Kyoto, we took the train to Fushimi Inari to walk through the famous gates. Inari is known as the god of rice and business and each of the 10,000 torii, or gates, was donated by a Japanese business. The hike up to the top of the mountain is about 2 hours but we opted to stop half way. Like the Bamboo Grove, the gates of Fushimi Inari were breathtaking. We had a lot of fun walking through each gate and taking it all in. On our way back from the gates, we enjoyed the local street food (read as more delicious yakatori) before heading out.
Le Bac a Sable
Le Bac a Sable was a block away from our AirBnB in Kyoto and we passed it every day as we left exploring. I highly recommend stopping there for a breakfast filled with bread, jams, omelets, and of course, sweets. The workers were all so cheerful even at 8 in the morning. We loved Le Bac a Sable so much, we enjoyed breakfast there twice.
Ice Roll Factory
Remember how my IG dreams came true at Burnside Café? Well, they came true again at Ice Roll Factory located in Nishiki Market. This loud and fun kiosk in the market serves up the creative ice cream rolls you’ve seen on Instagram and they love putting on a show! We ordered the cookies and cream ice cream roll and it did not disappoint. Even though it was chilly out, we enjoyed every bite of our ice cream roll!
To be honest, we were not planning on doing anything in Osaka; it was just where we were supposed to fly out of since it was close Kyoto. We had a few hours to kill before our flight so we stopped by the Osaka Castle. The Castle/Museum itself is 8 stories (stairs only) of history, relics, and sculptures. On the top floor, there is an observation deck that provides 360 degree views of Osaka and the castle grounds. The castle grounds are massive and you could spend most of the day just walking around. We opted to work our way through Forest Park before heading to the airport.
I was reading a fellow blogger’s latest travel post and she reflected on her trip by answering three meaningful questions: What meant the most? What would I not do again? What didn't I do that I wish I had? Having 7 full days of Tejinder meant the most. And I know that sounds corny because we were in such a beautiful place filled with history and culture and good food and here I am saying the best part of my trip was my boyfriend. But it’s the truth! I loved every minute we spent walking, talking, and enjoying the little things that come with dating your best friend. The thing we didn’t do that I wish we did was spend an extra half day in Hakone. It was such a peaceful retreat that I felt we rushed through on our way to Kyoto. And if I could leave something out, I would definitely not have taken the pirate the boat our first night in Hakone which left us stranded on the other side of the lake. Please read the time tables carefully!
Until the next adventure,